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Film Memoirs, Part One

My first memory is being at the movies.

This is rightfully fitting, for the only way I can tell you of my life, and what happened to me, is through the movies I watched.

I was four, and just learned to talk. Reluctantly, my mother allowed my grandmother to take me to the movies one summer afternoon. I did not know what we were to do or potentially see, as my grandmothers gloved hand held mine. I fumbled her cameo ring between my tiny fingers, tracing its image, an ivory woman in a small pool of what looked to me, like almond colored skin.

‘I saw a picture for the first time when I was four years old, just like you.’ she says smiling.

‘Pictures weren’t that old when I saw one, mind you. Sound had just come. It was a musical with a lady named Jeanette McDonald.’

She sticks her finger in her mouth, making a coughing noise.

I laugh; she looks satisfied at my reaction.

‘I hated Jeanette McDonald but I knew I liked pictures.’

The room we entered once a small ceremony of tickets bought and sold, could have been the size of a belfry or the end of the world. The corridor we walked down seemed to descend into nowhere, only small beads of electric light revealing a trail to our velvet seats. We sit; my grandmother does not take off her large white sunhat. She smiles benevolently like a statue embed with familiarity. I am scared as the lights go down, the room is now pitch black, but I keep looking to her face, which somehow still glows, smiling still and I know I am safe.

For some time the room is dark, centuries in the mind of a four year old. I notice the sound of ticking, like a rattling clock, the hissing of a snake. And then something happened; a large prism of white appears from nowhere. But closer, I see it is from a small window, it continues to spill like white water freezing in winter air. I see the dust and smoke of a cigarette linger softly through its tail.

But of further surprise, I find the room is a large one filled with others, surrounding four black walls. They sit among us, looking to a large frame, where pictures move. I look back to the prism of light and the picture, barely understanding their inherent relationship to one another. Slowly I accept this, though I want to think it is a gigantic television, but images move so much freer here it seems. Perhaps, if I wander toward it I can touch and feel the large people walking upon them, lingering through my fingertips like soft satin. I realize that everyone, everything is imbued with a skin of luscious satin, that everyone and everything is more beautiful here.

But my memory lapses, a reel is missing in my mind. I know that the film we saw was Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. But all I remember is the presence of the Wicked Queen, her cloak of black and blue like an afflicted body. Her face is utter symmetry, lips eyes and rouge aligning in a death trap, her body moving like a house that holds a thousand curtains. While I know now the film wanders to the perils of a princess and funny dwarves, I understand the Queen’s presence lingers thick over all, like a black cloud, and I admire her for that power. Each time the screen reveals her, it seems its weight can barely contain the hatred she imbues.

I only remember one scene of Snow White. It is in her dungeon, where she concocts a spell, surrounded by glass vials and skulls, books of black magic and various body parts. She drinks the liquid from a phallic vial, the world of the film and my world spinning in delirious abandon. My body seems to change with hers in an ecstatic ritual. From her black skullcap explodes white hair, her skin grows wrinkled and withered, her voice changing. The initiation is over, the ceremony and all its magic has been completed.  Though I am four and can barely hold a small string of sentences together, I am fascinated, and understand that even beauty can be revolting, that each are one of the same property, like an alchemical equation. I know in my heart, though I am not supposed to, that I would very much like to have the power of the wicked witch in my blood. I would like to have her beauty hang over all around me like shadows in a bright sun. I would like, by will, to turn into a hideous hag to turn the world away when it displeased me, so I could be left alone to my own devices, all living creatures avoiding me.

Somehow, the film ends and we are leave the black room, the door opens and we are engulfed by white sun, brighter than neon, my grandmothers face lost in its light among her white hat, dress and gloves, guiding my little hand to the car like a floating ghost.

There in the black room, was the happiest moment of my entire life. All that has happened afterwards has been perpetual anti-climax.

For an entire year I try to understand the witches magic, to attempt becoming her. I request from my sister, various potions made from spices and tap water accumulated from my grandmothers kitchen, in hopes that just the right concoction will change the course of my small, defenseless life. To appease my guilt I pretend to be snow white, perpetual victim of all evils, in hopes of inherently attracting it like a beautiful disease. I have read of Eisenstein’s cyclical images in film, the bisexual, the good and evil imbued confusedly in all his characters. Only a four year old could truly understand his hermaphrodites, his conjoined twins of good and evil wrangling for attention. I hoped to become in some way, both Snow White and the Wicked Queen, in hopes that her evil counterpart will win. But I know whoever wins the fight, it will not matter, as long as I am not a four year old boy when the spell has been cast, forever.

In the dark of my memory I recall my grandmothers toilette. On the left of me is a mahogany box filled with jewels. On my right, is a silver candy box of makeup; I smell the flesh colored powder that fluffs from the small pancake tucked inside. On both sides are photographs of those who have died. A sister with a pearl necklace, her hair is hand tinted a shade of hazel. I am told she died young. Two great-grand parents smile from a green field fifty years ago, a woman in a summer dress. Here my experiments take place.  My sister prepares me like an invisible servant from behind. I bite my lips until they seem red; I pinch my cheeks to a desirable pallor. The true make up of children is affliction. From the box I put every ring upon my finger, all of them fitting loosely. Cameos, diamonds, an amethyst and a wedding ring glow as I twinkle my fingers in the sunlight glimmering from the curtains. My sister fits a necklace of pearls tightly around my neck until I feel breath falling in and out of my throat My sister, in full ceremony, dips a stolen apple in her potion. She offers it to me in great ceremony. I stare at myself, hoping it will be the last time a four-year-old boy gazes back. I take a bite, chewing it slowly, and its skin bitter from potion, it’s inside soft and slightly sinewy sweet. I swoon slightly, putting my hand to my head in what might be ecstasy or pain, and I await my sister’s prognosis.

‘It must be the poison flowing through your body.’

I take her cue, releasing a final sigh. I swoon from my grandmother’s chair, crawling my way to her massive bed, her silken sheets clinging between my bejeweled fingers.

‘And now you shall die.’

I crawl beneath the bed, hiding from the afternoon sun, the birds singing softly.

‘I shall die’ I whisper to myself, closing my eyes.

I pretend to be dead as my sister leaves the room. I hear the television flicker on, the sounds of cartoons. My grandmother is making sandwiches in the kitchen. She calls my name softly, three syllables like a dim lullaby.

The spell has failed.

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